ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Some demonstrators defiantly carried holstered handguns on their hips in a Tuesday rally by gun-rights advocates, protesting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s surprise order last week to suspend the right to carry firearms to address what she called an epidemic of gun violence.
The rally unfolded on Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza shortly before New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced he cannot defend the governor’s public health order on firearms, exposing a divide between the state’s top-ranked elected Democrats.
In his letter to Lujan Grisham, Torrez said that although he agrees a debate is needed on the impact of gun violence, it cannot be rebranded a public health emergency to justify a blanket 30-day prohibition against carrying firearms. He urged the governor to consider whether her time would be better spent on developing comprehensive legislation.
“While I understand that frustration may have led you to undertake a unilateral approach to addressing the heart-wrenching challenge of gun violence in our community, I urge you to reconsider this course of action,” said Torrez.
Many of the 70 people gathered in Albuquerque Tuesday wore T-shirts in support of the right to bear arms, while others waved American flags and held signs reading: “Do Not Comply.”
Rally goers called the order an example of government overreach and remembered how the governor repeatedly renewed public health orders during the coronavirus pandemic.
For Kimberly Wahpepah, who is Navajo, the move was deeper.
“That’s because of what the government has already done to my people — stolen our land, murdered our people and raped our women. Our government has already stripped away who we are,” said Wahpepah, who said she is a survivor of human trafficking and mother of two. “The governor isn’t fixing what she’s supposed to be fixing.”
Mark Abramson, who has a gun shop on the outskirts of Albuquerque, said a debate is long overdue on how to tackle irresponsible, unjustified shootings such as the ones in Albuquerque that led to the deaths of an 11-year-old and a teen.
“But to ban the largest city and the most populous county in the state simply because bad people engaged in bad behavior seems overkill,” said Abramson, who is also a lawyer. “It’s not the law-abiding citizen that is the problem.”
The governor issued the order Friday, saying she felt compelled to act because of recent killings, including the death of an 11-year-old outside a minor league baseball stadium last week and the August shooting death of 13-year-old Amber Archuleta in Taos County.
She has since ignited a firestorm with her order to suspend the open and concealed carry of guns in most public places.
Several lawsuits have been filed, along with requests to block the order. No hearings have been scheduled yet in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.
The sheriff who oversees Bernalillo County and the police chief in Albuquerque said they won’t enforce the governor’s order because it violates constitutional rights. State Police spokesman Ray Wilson said late Monday that no citations had been issued by his agency.
Republican lawmakers railed against the order, called on the governor to rescind it and threatened impeachment proceedings. Even some influential Democrats and civil rights leaders typically aligned with the governor’s progressive political agenda warned that her well-intended move could do more harm than good to overall efforts to stem gun violence.
Local businessman Mike Leathers said at a Sunday rally in Albuquerque’s Old Town that having more law-abiding citizens carrying firearms can deter crime. He faulted the governor for taking away that deterrent and for enacting policies that led to less accountability for criminals.
“Now she’s punishing us for the problem she created,” he said, adding that the perpetual violence in Albuquerque has left residents scared to walk to their cars to go to work in the mornings.
Lujan Grisham defended her order as necessary, and rebuffed any calls for impeachment.
“As governor, it’s my job to take action and put New Mexicans’ safety first — not complain about problems we are elected to solve,” she said in a social media post over the weekend on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Some critics have said it’s concerning that only those who want to curb gun rights have the Democratic governor’s ear. Top law enforcement officials and prosecutors have said they weren’t consulted before Lujan Grisham sprung on them an order that even she admits will be ignored by criminals. Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen is among those worried about the fallout.
“It is quite irritating for me to see how this this 30-day ban completely overshadowed the robust conversations that we had with the governor and the office on what we are going to do to curb gun violence,” Allen said. “We had arguments. But again, we had solutions.”
Still, Archuleta’s father applauded Lujan Grisham’s actions, saying his family was destroyed.
“We are looking for answers and solutions to this issue,” Joshua Archuleta said in a statement released Monday by his attorney.
The Catholic Church was among the few who joined longtime gun-control advocates on Monday in support of the order. The Most Rev. John C. Wester, archbishop of the Diocese of Santa Fe, insisted the governor is “not attacking the Second Amendment.”
“I hope to hear more of an outcry over an eleven-year-old boy killed by a bullet fired in a road rage incident than over the right to carry a gun,” he said. ___
Associated Press writers Anita Snow and Terry Tang in Phoenix, Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, and Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contributed to this story.